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Kant in the classroom
Should a school spend time teaching young children philosophy? Aristotle thought
not. He argued that the young lacked capacity and life experience and were
too preoccupied following ‘passions’ to seek knowledge. But then again, Aristotle thought the earth was at the centre of the universe, so what did he know?
A report by Brodie Bibby head teacher of Cognita’s North Bridge House Preparatory School, London.
I can appreciate, however, why many teachers would share Aristotle’s doubts. Isn’t philosophy too dif cult for children? Yes,
they ask lots of philosophically sounding questions: “Why are we here?” “Where do we go?” “Why
is my brother more important than my dog?”. They are naturally curious and want to query how the world works. But does this add up to philosophy? Can teachers structure these rogue questions into meaningful lessons that help children learn?
In my experience, yes, they can but the subject has to be approached in a certain way. As Peter Worley of the Philosophy Foundation charity points out, philosophy has to be done through conversation because it requires a response. And given children’s level of understanding
of the world they need a group to challenge and bounce ideas off. To expect them to re ect in isolation
is asking a bit much. Only as they grow up, will they develop an ability to internalise conversations and  esh them out critically in their own minds.
That doesn’t mean, however,
that 7 or 8 year olds can’t have philosophical conversations. To be philosophical, Mr Worley argues, a conversation has to be three things. It has to be re ective – “What is x?”, reasoned – we have to answer that question through a rational method, and right – “Is this the right answer?”. Children, even young children, can be taught to develop these skills.
The academic bene ts can be enormous. Group discussion encourages children to learn how to express and convey their thoughts as well as learning to respect the differing opinions of others. As they consider the alternative views of their classmates they learn how to become more open minded and to solve disagreements reasonably.
Young philosophers also become very adept at analysing ideas and spotting the holes in theories that don’t hold up. Encountering a multitude of possible answers to questions encourages children to think in a different way, beyond things being accepted as simply
Hoop Trundle
There were thrills and spills at King’s Ely’s Hoop Trundle – one of the school’s most historic and  ercely- contested events.
Crowds gathered around the
East Lawn of Ely Cathedral after Prizegiving for the event, which sees the school’s King’s and Queen’s Scholars racing each other while bowling traditional wooden hoops.
Each year, up to twelve students
in Year 12 become King’s Scholars (boys) or Queen’s Scholars (girls) on
‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Philosophy nurtures in youngsters the art of listening, of assessing the validity of what has been said and developing an argument to support a position one might hold.
These abilities, if taught well, endure throughout life and long after school. In the immediate term, if philosophy is taught across the school, it can create and change a whole school’s culture.
Some teachers might think philosophy is too tangential to the core curriculum or too indulgent, especially as more and more demands are made on already stretched school timetables. Yet
at its core, philosophy is about developing rational thought - the ability to think through a problem following a logical series of
steps, which underpins learning across all subjects, from maths to comprehension. Indeed, according to the Education Endowment Foundation, a year of philosophy results in pupils making two- month’s additional progress in maths and reading.
the basis of academic excellence. They become members of the Cathedral Foundation, strengthening the special link between King’s Ely and the cathedral, and they also qualify for numerous other privileges throughout the academic year.
Distinguished by their red gowns, the King’s and Queen’s Scholars are all great friends but their competitive side was most certainly
Others may be concerned that grappling with issues such as death, inequality and injustice are too daunting for young children. In my experience the opposite is the case. Children are already aware of these questions; structuring them into a lesson creates a safe environment in which they can be tackled. I’d even go further –introducing philosophy at a young age helps children develop their moral compasses because it encourages honesty
and integrity and leads them to consider the effects of their actions. It acts, too, as a sound basis for democratic, civic values because
it encourages young citizens to critically assess arguments and yet to tolerate and respect difference.
Bertrand Russell once pointed out that people generally tend to avoid philosophising and the dif cult questions of life: “Most people would rather die than think; many do.” Looking around my class of eager young philosophers, I know that fate will never befall them. When Aristotle got it wrong, he really got it wrong.
on display for the Hoop Trundle, which commemorates the re- founding of the school by King Henry VIII in 1541. Having dissolved Ely monastery, which had educated children for centuries, he gave the school its  rst Royal Charter and inaugurated the 12 King’s Scholars. One of the privileges he allowed them was to play games, including the bowling of hoops, in the cathedral precincts.
The winners of this year’s Hoop Trundle were Oliver Wilkinson and Alice Keeling, who were each presented with wooden tankards by the Mayor of Ely, Cllr Ian Lindsay.
14 Independent Schools Magazine
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